GARLAND, Maine ― Oh, butter. There are few things that can compare to its satisfyingly creamy and salty ways. Spread on warm muffins or summer corn, melted and drizzled over lobster or a bowl of popcorn, butter is quite simply a staple on any table.
While many people reach into shiny grocery store cooler doors to grab a box or two of the good stuff, butter is a dairy product that those with curiosity ― and a fair share of patience ― can make at home.
After clearing out from under about a foot of snow at their Garland farm on a recent Friday, husband and wife Ernest and Andrea Rollins were churning up batches of their own homemade butter, which they sell at their Rollins Orchards booth at Bangor’s two winter farmers markets.
With their herd of 10 Jersey cows, the Rollins’ offer several types of dairy products including milk by the gallon, greek yogurt, cheese and butter.
“There are days that not everyone is going to come in and buy all of the gallons of milks I have, so I need to do other things with them to preserve the milk, so butter is one of the more popular things that we have,” Ernest Rollins said.
Every two weeks or so, when Rollins Orchards goes into churning mode, they’ll make about 20 pounds of butter. While this might be more butter than a home baker or cook will want to make at a time, the process is the same.
There are two types of butter that can be made: run of the mill sweet cream butter, or cultured butter that is made from cream that has been fermented with active bacteria cultures.
“What we’re doing is cultured butter, which is a slow and traditional process, rather than the commercial butter, which is a very quick process in churning the cream into butter,” Ernest Rollins said. “We use the slow traditional process to give [the butter] better flavor. It gives it a more buttery flavor.”
Regardless of whether it is sweet cream or cultured butter being made, cream removed from milk is the fundamental ingredient. Cream from raw milk can be used to make butter, or regular pasteurized cream can be used. When selecting a cream to make butter from, the heavier the cream, the better, Ernest Rollins said, because heavier cream has a higher butterfat content.
The final butter product goes back even further than the cream one starts with to the kind of cows that the milk has come from and what they are eating. The Rollins raise Jersey cows, which have a higher butterfat content than other types of dairy cows, for example, the traditional holstein.
Ernest Rollins said grass-fed cows also produce a richer milk and will produce a brighter yellow butter.
“We tend to choose the cow’s diet based on how that will affect the taste of the dairy product,” Ernest Rollins said. “Butter gets its flavor from the cream.”
If making cultured butter, the process takes a bit longer than making regular butter because the active bacteria cultures must sit in the cream at room temperature for 12 to 13 hours, allowing the cream to ferment. Once the cream has fermented it must be brought down to room temperature, about 50 degrees, before the churning process begins.
Temperature is an important part of the butter making process, Andrea Rollins said, because it has an impact on how long it takes for the butterfat to “break,” or separate, from the buttermilk during the churning process.
“There is a bit of a learning process because [making butter] is specific, it’s very particular to temperature,” Andrea Rollins said. “When it’s cold outside, sometimes it’s too cold to churn. In the hot humidity, sometimes it’s also difficult.”
Once the cream is at room temperature, the process for making cultured and sweet cream butter is the same. While yield varies on the type of cream being used, half a gallon of cream makes 1 pound of butter.
Either a stand-up mixer or food processor can be used as a churning vessel. Though if using a stand-up mixer, a lid or cover should be affixed on top of the bowl so cream and buttermilk does not whirl out during the churning process.
The cream should be churned at about half, or three-quarters, of the mixing machine’s maximum speed, Ernest Rollins said. Though if it appears that the cream is having a hard time breaking into butter, maximum speed may be employed.
Whipped cream will be the first product made in the churning process. Once the whipped cream starts to become gritty in appearance, the butterfat has begun to separate from the buttermilk, and butter is on its way.
It takes about five to six minutes before the butterfat completely breaks away from the buttermilk, forming luscious clumps of yellow butter in the bottom of the mixing bowl. At this point, the buttermilk must be strained from the butter using a colander or mesh strainer.
If making a sweet cream butter, the butter milk derived from this process is not the same buttermilk one would purchase in a store to then make buttermilk pancakes with because it is too thin. It can, however, be used in place of milk.
However, Ernest Rollins said that the buttermilk from that results from making cultured butter is thicker and can be used in recipes that call for buttermilk. If the cultured buttermilk is still a little thin, Ernest Rollins recommends adding a bit greek yogurt to thicken.
Once the buttermilk has been removed, the butter must be rinsed with water to remove any of the remaining buttermilk that coats the exterior of the butter. Removing the excess buttermilk will prevent the butter from spoiling, Andrea Rollins said.
After the butter has been rinsed is when salt would be added, if inclined to do so. The Rollins couple add about a half teaspoon of salt per half pound of butter, working it into the butter before packaging.
The butter can either be shaped into a stick mold, to harden in the fridge before wrapping, or kept in small tubs, which is how the Rollins package their butter.
While butter is the most labor intensive dairy product that Ernest Rollins says they make on their farm, the quality of the small-batch butter is far better than store bought in his opinion.
“Everything we do is geared toward getting the best flavor and the best quality,” he said. “That is part of my goal, to be able to explain to consumers what it is that we do, and why we have the best products.”